A fashion all to himself
Not everyone is a fan of fashion; fewer people still are fans of fashion films – but I am one of the few. I adore fashion films and they are not as niche as you might expect.
McQueen – the documentary based on fashion designer Alexander McQueen draws heavily on the Victoria & Albert museum (V&A) exhibition Savage Beauty (2015) which drew the greatest number of visitors to an exhibition in the V&A’s history.
My love affair with the fashion exhibition began in Canberra in 2004 with Vivienne Westwood – 34 Years in Fashion retrospective. For me, it married the relationship between fashion, music, and culture. The fashion films are extensions of this for me. Coincidentally, a preview of the Vivienne Westwood film, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist was shown just before the film. Alexander McQueen always seemed an outsider to fashion, while he perhaps had the most traditional training of all fashion designers. He started as an apprentice to Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, before moving to Milan to work with Romeo Gigli. He came back to London where he enrolled in Central St Martins College of the Arts.
Through this time and into the establishment of his own label, Alexander McQueen remained a chubby, skinhead-looking, gay man, close to his East End family.
He still didn’t look the part of a big house couturier when he took over the reins at Givenchy. However, his time at Givenchy changed him. Working simultaneously to build his own brand at his eponymous shop, the long hours, relentless schedule and ready money saw him descend into depression and drugs – one fuelling the other.
His collections are brilliantly shown in the film, which is divided into acts each devoted to a particular collection such as Jack The Ripper Stalks his Victims, Highland Rape, and Horn of Plenty. There is a brief homage to his bumsters, though not by name.
Fashion muse Isabella Blow and her relationship with McQueen is laid bare in the film. As one of his greatest supporters and promoters, Blow and McQueen were often seen as fashion’s enfants terribles but when he was given the Givenchy gig he snubbed his friend who had hoped to enjoy a gig of her own in the atelier. Their relationship never fully recovered.
His family, colleagues, fellow designers, and models all contributed to the film. Although Galliano and Gigli feature in relatively small roles, Sarah Burton, his former apprentice who succeeded him as creative director, was very much absent.
Michael Nyman, one of McQueen’s favourite composers, is responsible for the score which is perfect for this film.
Image via incredibusy.com